Puzzling out Ray Shearer

It seems odd to me that while I’m able to trace my family back on dozens of lines more than 400 years, my own patrilineal great-grandfather—my father’s father’s father—is nearly a complete mystery to me. I would normally begin an exploration of his life by saying that his name was Ray Shearer, but even that is a bit of a mystery. While many people called him Ray, more often than not, he referred to himself as Zyionyi Ray Shearer. As with many of my difficult-to-research ancestors, I keep setting aside his information, waiting for some hint or help to emerge, as they so often do.

And so it was with Ray. Just this past week I got an unexpected letter from my cousin Peggy R., who’s a cousin on my Shearer side. Her great-grandmother was Ray Shearer’s mother—Mary Belle (Coddington) Shearer Stokes. Peggy’s grandmother was Ray’s younger half-sister, Zealia Faye Stokes, and Zealia apparently was very interested in preserving family stories and history, and she passed much of this on to Peggy.

Today’s post could not have been written without Peggy’s help. Thank you, Peggy! Continue reading

Personal history prompts, part 1 (leisure)

If your experience is anything like mine, it can be frustratingly hard to get your family members to start sharing personal details about themselves, their parents, or their grandparents. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to talk about themselves, or perhaps they figure you’ve already heard and know the stories and they don’t want to bore you by repeating something you may have last heard decades ago.

I’m starting to think that more often, it’s because I’m not asking the right questions—that I’m not asking questions that are specific enough to trigger old memories. So in this series of posts, I’ll be bringing together some ideas for lines of questioning when interviewing relatives.

In the following examples, I’ll be pretending to ask an older relative about their deceased parent. While I use the pronoun “he” in the following questions, they apply equally well to both parents. I’m figuring there will be several lines of questioning (on leisure, religion, politics, personality, family, religion/spirituality, work, education, childhood, young adulthood, dating and marriage, the military, and so on), with the questions for any one of these lines being covered in one or more sessions of an hour or more each. Continue reading

Mayflower descendancy, part 2

As I mentioned in my first post on this topic, I applied last Fall for preliminary review to join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (“Mayflower Society”). According to the response to my preliminary review:

Contacting the state society of your choice as to full requirements in proceeding to membership would be the potential applicant’s next best step.  The historian of the Mayflower Society in the state where you reside will also receive a copy of this lineage review so that they will also be aware of your interest.

I’ve just filled out the Preliminary Review Form for the California Mayflower Society and put it in an envelope along with the requested self-addressed stamped envelope, so I figure I’ll get a head start on gathering and organizing the required documentation. What exactly constitutes “required documentation” is left intentionally vague in the response I received from the genealogist at the National headquarters of the Mayflower Society: Continue reading

Mayflower descendancy, part 1

I find myself languishing in the genealogical doldrums after a few months of inactivity, and I need a project to put some wind back in my sails. As it so happens, I finally heard back from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD or just “Mayflower Society”) about their preliminary review of my application, which was based on my pedigree showing descent from Mayflower passenger John Alden, as well as his wife Priscilla Mullins, and her parents William Mullins and Alice Atwood.

The genealogist performing the preliminary review stated that the first six generations of my submitted pedigree—from John Alden (ca. 1599–1688) to Seth Vinton (1756–1853)—had been conclusively proven by earlier genealogists, so I would not have to re-establish those facts. What I would have to do, however, is conclusively establish my direct descent from Seth Vinton in order to qualify for membership in the Mayflower Society.

My goal is to join well in advance of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s sailing from the Old World to the New World in Fall, 1620. I would like to celebrate the 400th anniversary of that voyage knowing that I’ve proven my descent from passengers on the Mayflower.

So six generations have been taken care of for me by others, but I have to document the last eight generations to a standard of proof acceptable by the Mayflower Society. Let’s go! Continue reading

Ribbing and recognition for Joseph Askew

Just a quick little post today on a humorous little piece I found in the Thursday, February 7th, 1884, edition of The Northern Pacific Farmer. A digitized version of this short-lived (1878–1885) paper was scanned by the Minnesota Historical Society and is available online through the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers site.

Without further ado, here is the piece I found: Continue reading

Genealogical resolutions for 2018

With the start of a new year, I thought I’d lay out my genealogical plans for 2018:

  1. Write more blog posts here on Blackenedroots. Having an energetic toddler has been more of a challenge to my genealogical pursuits over the past three and a half years than I had imagined it would be. With Arwen’s third birthday now behind us, I feel (or at least I hope) that we’ve turned a new page and that I may be able to get more research and writing time in. This last month has been a test of that feeling/hope, and I found I was able to write more posts in the last month of 2017 than I did in all of 2016 or 2015. So here’s to a continued renaissance at Blackenedroots in 2018!
  2. Join a hereditary society or two—most likely the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (Mayflower Society). My cousin Linda asked for help with an SAR application she was filling out this past fall, and I realized I didn’t really have a good grasp of what was needed. I thought tracing one’s line back to an ancestor who was a member would be sufficient—not so, it turns out. If your ancestors joined SAR or DAR more than about 35 years ago, you pretty much have to redo all the work done by your ancestor, as the societies usually returned all supporting documentation to the applicant, without making a file copy for themselves. With the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower coming up in 2020, and the 250th anniversary of the nation coming a few years later in 2026, this seems like a great time to get this done. To benefit both sides of my family, I’ll probably be going with Benjamin Woodruff on my mother’s side for SAR, and John Alden on my father’s side for the Mayflower Society.

Continue reading

100 years ago today, “Somewhere in France”

Exactly one hundred years ago today, my great-uncle William Alonzo Bailey (the boy in the header photo above) wrote the following letter home to his mother, Ellen Caroline (“Carrie”) Severson Bailey (the older woman in the header photo above).

Will was serving in the U.S. Army in France during World War I. The Dorothy he mentions is his sister, Dorothy Mary Bailey, from whom I inherited this and dozens of other letters from World War I. The Cambrai he refers to is the Battle of Cambrai in France at the end of November to early December 1917. Continue reading

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to family and friends near and far! Today’s post is a selection of Christmas cards (actually Christmas postcards and one Christmas telegram) that were received or sent by ancestors and relatives from the early 1900s until the mid-1940s.

I wish you all a joyous Christmas—hearts filled with good cheer, bellies filled with good food, homes filled with family, and a future filled with hope and good tidings for everyone.

Continue reading

Dot’s last letter from her father

While Christmas is often the happiest time of the year in our family, it can also sometimes be one of the saddest times. While today’s post is about one of those sad times, I promise that a more upbeat Christmas post is coming after this one.

This week has been a sad one for our family, so when I came across this letter, written 94 years ago today, it seemed an appropriate subject for today’s post. My great-aunt Dot (Dorothy Mary Bailey) had just married Clarence Humphrey Bailey in Fort Collins, Colorado, just two days before this letter was written.

Dot’s father (my great-great-grandfather) William Noble Bailey was suffering from diabetes and was too ill to travel to see his youngest daughter get married. In fact, he was so ill that he died just a week after writing this letter, on December 31, 1923, at his daughter Lucinda (Bailey) McMurry’s house in Olympia, Washington. Continue reading

Goodbye Grandma Prettyman

My dear, sweet grandmother, Harriet Eva (Askew) Prettyman, passed away at 9:00 pm tonight, December 14, 2017. It was not unexpected, as she was 95 and had a rough last few years, but her loss leaves an empty hole in the hearts of all those who knew and loved her.

I’ll share more of her life story and our memories of her in the coming days and weeks, but for now I just wanted to share a few photos of her as part of my way of saying goodbye. Continue reading